English Knights, French Books, and Literary Communities

  • Kenneth Hodges
Part of the Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)

Abstract

In the epilogue of his translation of Ramon Lull’s Ordre of Chyualry (printed 1484), William Caxton bemoans the contemporary decline of chivalry. His first prescription for solving the problem—even before such obvious solutions as holding more tournaments—was to have knights read, and his first choice of what knights should read was books about King Arthur:

O ye knyghtes of Englond where is the custome and vsage of noble chyualry that was vsed in tho dayes / … rede the noble volumes of saynt graal of lancelot / of galaad / of Trystram / of perse forest / of percyual / of gawayn / & many mo.1

Keywords

Expense Posit Bors Dition Stake 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    William Caxton, The Book of the Ordre of Chyualry, ed. Alfred Byles, EETS o.s. 168 (London: H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1926), pp. 121–22.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Beverly Kennedy recognizes that chivalry in Malory is diverse and suggests that there are three basic, relatively stable and well-defined types of chivalry (heroic, worshipful, and true) of which Malory makes his knights exemplars: thus, while she acknowledges that chivalry was diverse and changing, she assumes most of the flux occurs outside the book; inside it, the types are stable, and the knights serve as representative figures. As later chapters will show, chivalry is constantly in flux within the book and cannot be broken down simply into three types; the characters also adapt their behavior as standards change. Malory is interested in the process of chivalry, not just in momentary manifestations of it. From a different perspective, Karen Cherewatuk argues that Malory followed the pattern of other fifteenth-century chivalric miscellanies in creating sections that deal with various chivalric questions from how to conduct a war to how to love. Readers would thus be primed to recognize different styles of chivalry. See Beverly Kennedy, Knighthood in the Morte Darthur, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, U.K.: D.S. Brewer, 1992);Google Scholar
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    Angus McIntosh suggests that Malory might have deliberately used northerly language, especially vocabulary, to suggest the sources he was drawing on (Angus McIntosh, review of William Matthews’s The Ill-Framed Knight, Medium Aevum 37.3 (1968): 346–48.Google Scholar
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    Richard W Kaeuper analyzes different conceptions of knighthood linked to clergie, royauté, and chevalerie (the church, the kings, and the knights), and it is possible that Galahad, Arthur, and Trystram (the only ones whose births or conceptions are told) correspond to some such division. Note this triple division does not exactly match Beverly Kennedy’s triad of heroic/worshipful/true knighthood since she places Arthur and Trystram together as worshipful knights. I argue that any threefold scheme will be too simplistic to explain all the tensions in Malory, but the major divisions of chivalry (however one chooses to label them) will be present as part of the picture of chivalric division. See Richard Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Beverly Kennedy, Knighthood in the Morte Darthur, esp. pp.150–77.Google Scholar
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    La Queste Del Saint Graal: Roman Du XIIIe Siècle ed. Albert Pauphilet (Paris: E. Champion, 1923), pp. 179–80. For the relevant passage in English translation, see The Quest of the Holy Grail trans. Pauline Matarasso (New York: Penguin, 1969), p. 284.Google Scholar
  28. 32.
    Charles Moorman argues that Malory “always preserves the core of the French book’s doctrinal statements, no matter how great his deletions” [Charles Moorman, The Book of Kyng Arthur: The Unity of Malory’s Morte Darthur (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965), p. 33]. Mary Hynes-Berry has argued that Malory’s alterations change the quest’s genre from allegory into exemplum (in Sandra Ness Ihle’s terms, he changes the focus from moral understanding to moral action)Google Scholar
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  31. [Dhira Mahoney, “The Truest and Holiest Tale: Malory’s Transformation of La Queste Del Saint Graal,” The Grail: A Casebook, ed. Dhira Mahoney (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), pp. 376–96].Google Scholar
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    Martin Shichtman, “Politicizing the Ineffable: The Queste Del Saint Graal and Malory’s ‘Tale of the Sankgreal’,” Culture and the King:The Social Implications of the Arthurian Legends, Martin Shichtman and James Carley (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 163–79; Catherine Batt, Malory’s Morte Darthur: Remaking Arthurian Tradition, pp. 131–37.Google Scholar
  33. 36.
    Murray J. Evans argues that the sword changes its meaning when it comes into the Grail quest: “the figure of Galahad who bears his sword is a redemption and transformation of the chivalry Balin represented.” While Galahad’s motives may be more Christian than Balin’s, and this Christianity may justify the breaking of the community, the sword’s divisiveness is unchanged. See Murray J. Evans, “Ordinatio and Narrative Links: The Impact of Malory’s Tales As a ‘Hoole Booke’,” Studies in Malory, ed. James W. Spisak (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1985), p. 38 [29–52].Google Scholar
  34. 40.
    Indeed, there may have been a reminder of this even in the text of the Queste itself: Vinaver notes that there were two textual traditions of the Queste, but Malory’s version has elements of both. Instead of Vinaver’s patronizing assumption that Malory must have had a lost source superior to anything extant, it is quite possible that Malory was comparing differing versions of the same text and choosing the readings he thought best, as many other medieval writers did. See P.J.C. Field, The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, 3rd ed., 3 v. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 1534.Google Scholar
  35. 41.
    John F. Plummer believes that the appearance of the Grail is an “inverted” Pentecost in which language becomes unstable. He focuses mainly on the deception and miscommunication of knights after their return, but his argument could be applied to what is said during the quest itself. John F. Plummer, “Tunc Se Coeperunt Non Intelligere: The Image of Language in Malory’s Last Books,” Studies in Malory, ed. James W. Spisak (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1985), pp. 153–71.Google Scholar
  36. 47.
    Both text and translation come from Geoffroi de Charny, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi De Charny: Text, Context, and Translation, trans. Richard Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), pp. 174–77.Google Scholar
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    Kevin T. Grimm, “The Reception of Malory’s Morte Darthur Medieval and Modern,” Quondam et Futurus 2.3 (1992): 1–14.Google Scholar
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  41. 56.
    The reason Malory gives for the people holding with Mordred against Arthur is “that with kynge Arthur was never other lyff but warre and stryff ” (1229; XXI.1), which does indeed resemble contemporary English discontent with Edward IV as reported by John Warkworth: when the chronicler muses on the fact that the people who were originally glad to change Henry VI for Edward IV were also glad to see Henry replace Edward once again, he says it is because “whenne Kynge Edward iiijth regnede, the peple looked after alle the foreside prosperytes and peece, but it came not; but one batayle aftere another.” This is not to suggest Malory the narrator is revealing a political bias, but rather that an audience could indeed be expected to see a similarity with Mordred’s rebellion, and since both Yorkists and Lancastrians had suffered uprisings, one could craft the moral as one liked. See Warkworth, A Chronicle of the First Thirteen Years of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth, ed. James Halliwell (London: Camden Society, 1839; rpt. Llanerch Enterprises, 1990), p. 12.Google Scholar
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    Elizabeth Kirk, “‘Clerkes, Poetes and Historiographs’: The Morte Darthur and Caxton’s ‘Poetics’ of Fiction,” Studies in Malory, ed. James W. Spisak (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute, 1985), pp. 275–95.Google Scholar

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© Kenneth Hodges 2005

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  • Kenneth Hodges

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